FBI Director James Comey announced a few days ago that the FBI would be looking at emails belonging to Hillary Clinton’s long-time aide, Huma Abedin, that were found on the computer of her estranged husband, accused sexter Anthony Weiner. The search would be for anything relevant to the earlier investigation into possible security lapses in Hillary Clinton’s private email system that she used while she was Secretary of State.
Questions immediately arose about the timing of the announcement, less than two weeks before the election, and its propriety as a public comment on an ongoing investigation,with no concrete information about what had been found, if anything. Moreover, it was soon revealed that the FBI investigators had known for some weeks that there were Abedin emails on the computer that might be relevant to the Clinton investigation, but had held off informing Comey until last week. This placed him in an untenable position: whatever he did or didn’t do, he would be severely criticized.
Anonymous FBI functionaries achieved their objective of resurrecting the email issue just when Clinton seemed to be on a course to win the election.
I think that what is going on here is a classic case of high stakes bureaucratic politics within the FBI. We have a team of investigators who have been after Hillary’s pelt at least since the email controversy broke. Comey’s refusal to seek an indictment last summer must have infuriated them. Although it is highly unlikely that anything in Abedin’s emails would contribute anything new to a case against Clinton, they could nonetheless justify looking at the newly discovered emails, just in case they might find something. But by holding off notifying Comey, they sandbagged him, taking their revenge for his failure to support an indictment. If he tried to keep the information secret, they would leak it. If he revealed it, he would be violating stating policies of the FBI and the Justice Department. Either way, he’s left swinging in the wind.
Meanwhile, these anonymous FBI functionaries achieved their objective of resurrecting the email issue just when Clinton seemed to be on a course to win the election. They could imply wrongdoing even though there is actually no evidence for it. It was a soft coup d’etat. It certainly gave Donald Trump’s campaign some oxygen just when things were looking bad. Whether there was coordination with the Trump campaign, the Republican Party, or Republican members of Congress remains to be determined.
As a campaign gambit, it will probably fail. First, there are very few undecided voters, and this is so transparently partisan that few Clinton supporters will be taken in. Second, early voting has been well underway in most swing states, since before this story came out. Third, Clinton still has a solid grip on the Electoral College, notwithstanding increasingly tight national polls. Indeed, in the worse case scenario of a Trump victory in the popular vote and a Clinton victory in the Electoral College, we might finally get GOP support for abolishing the Electoral College.
This is probably not the final twist in what has been the ugliest, saddest presidential campaign in our history. But it is one of the most troubling for our diseased democracy.